“Low Activity Computer Solo” (32:23)
Recorded in London and Berlin, September to November 2008
Assembly, edit, mix and master in London, January 2009
Contact microphone, telephone pick-up coil & computer
Hardware: IBM Thinkpad T40
O/S: Debian GNU/Linux (4.0r3 “Etch”), pure:dyne (v2.3.6)
Software: Pure Data, Jackd/Qjackctl, Jack Rack, Jamin, Time Machine, Audacity, Flac, OpenOffice
The piece was recorded by using a telephone induction coil plugged directly into the computer in order to pick up the electromagnetic activity present within the machine, and a piezo contact microphone to record elements of it's external surfaces. I have tried this technique on a number of different computers and seemingly each has it's own personal characteristics much like any other musical instrument. Some machines barely respond to the contact microphones/pick-up coil, others seem to be a complete hive of electrical activity at all times.
The raw sounds here then are “ready-made” or “found” in that they are present at all times and occurring with little or no influence from the user. Switching certain functions on and off or manipulating the trackpad or CD loading mechanism for example will cause responses from the machine, but it is how the machine is designed internally and constructed that has the greatest influence on the sounds it is capable of producing. In no small part, credit for this piece should therefore go to the machines designers in New York and the people on the assembly line in the IBM factory in China where the computer was built.
The purpose of the piece was to go some way toward addressing the following:
A way to use the computer as an object or instrument in it's own right, rather than a container for pre-recorded sounds or a simple process calculator. The traditional model of using a mouse, trackpad or other controller in order to “play” a software routine or algorithm can create too much distance or a disconnection between the technology/instrument and performer/user.
A way to slow down. There is a tendency in contemporary computer music to rely too heavily on a rapid succession of events played out at high volume, so much so that this way of playing could now be considered a cliché. The sounds in the piece are therefore “framed” within periods of digital silence; a pause to allow each sound to be heard in isolation and in it's entirety, rather than each sound forming part of a mesh of ever-evolving sounds.
A way to work differently. Operating with the GNU/Linux framework on a practical level allows for far greater interconnection between the various software packages. Everything potentially connects to everything else. Everything can be customised to suit the users specific requirements. There is a constantly expanding community of programmers and users, all very much with an open mind to what can be achieved. If you have a question or suggestion as to how something works, or how something could be made better, it is open for discussion and potential inclusion.